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Fiction vs. Nonfiction writing/software

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Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Sep 2, 2008 at 08:47 PM


Seeing Hugh’s note about Writer’s Cafe on the previous thread got me wondering why it is that there are more applications geared toward fiction writing than toward nonfiction. There are far more nonfiction books published each year (at least in the U.S., but I assume it is the same elsewhere) than books of fiction. Additionally, journalists and scholars are all writing nonfiction. So it would seem that software for nonfiction would have a broader market potential.

On the Mac side you have the following applications geared for fiction:

Jer’s Novel Software
Scrivener (which can be used effectively for nonfiction, but which is definitely aimed at novelists)
Writer’s Cafe

On the PC side:

Liquid Story Binder
Writer’s Blocks
Story Master
Writer’s Cafe

(I am doing this from memory, so I know I’m forgetting some.)

There are applications that have a foot in either genre:

SuperNoteCard (PC or Mac)
Page Four (PC)

And, of course, there are the basic word processors.

But I can’t think of one Mac-based application that is designed specifically for nonfiction. On the PC, there are IdeaMason, Nota Bene, and ndxCards.

Is the issue that fiction writing requires more specialized tools than nonfiction? Are there more “wannabe” fiction writers than nonfiction writers? Are the demands of nonfiction writing more complex and therefore harder to code (i.e. support for tables, formulas, footnotes, indices, etc…)? Or am I just not aware of or remembing the scads of software for nonfiction?

Anyway, this is just an observation and I’m curious to see what others think.



Posted by Hugh
Sep 2, 2008 at 09:26 PM


I think you’re right, Steve.

Personally, I blame JK Rowling. ;-)

Fiction is an “aspirational” market, or wannabe as you say. If the market for fiction-writing software is growing, so is the market for “how-to” books. Everyone seems to think they can drop down to the local Starbucks for a few hours a week with their laptop and special software, having read Vogler, McKee or Field, and churn out a well-turned tale. But as a wise man once said: “Everybody thinks they haves a book inside them - and that’s where it should stay.”

I am sure that the market for non-fiction writing is “real” (or whatever the opposite of “aspirational” is). And of course as you point out, non-fiction may have functionality demands that fiction does not.

Incidentally there are several more pieces of fiction software than you mention: apart from the WriteItNows, Power Structures and Power Writes, there are New Novelist, Bookwriter, MyNovel and this new one (which you may have seen elsewhere): http://code.google.com/p/bookwrite/. For factualists there are as you say only the apps you mention and in addition perhaps Tinderbox.



Posted by Stephen R. Diamond
Sep 3, 2008 at 12:20 AM


Stephen Zeoli wrote:
>There are far more nonfiction books published each year (at least in the
>U.S., but I assume it is the same elsewhere) than books of fiction. Additionally,
>journalists and scholars are all writing nonfiction. So it would seem that software
>for nonfiction would have a broader market potential.
> I wonder about the distribution, if you limit it to Mac users. Screenwriters, for example, have standardized, I think, on a Mac program.

Also, fiction writing has particular demands, to which ordinary tools are poorly adapted. MindManager, for example, has a special pricey module for screenwriting. Freemind, on the other hand, advertises its suitability for writing a philosophical treatise, using only Freemind’s native capacity.


Posted by JohnK
Sep 3, 2008 at 12:27 AM


Wearing my journalist hat, I find that the key piece of software for me is the one I use for data gathering and retrieval. Finding the perfect ‘data dump’ has been a never-ending search. For pulling it all together, a text editor will do me just fine.

For fiction, on the other hand, specialist software such as PageFour, or Movie Magic Screenwriter for scriptwriting, do help the writing and outlining process.

Although it’s risky turning this one example into a broad generalization, I think many fiction writers need more help from software later in the process. With non-fiction, the information-gathering phase is where most help is needed.


Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Sep 3, 2008 at 05:18 PM


Well, I suppose it is true that nonfiction is often—though not always (think of the great true crime accounts)—more linear than fiction, so might need less emphasis on structuring tools… so an information manager and a word processor would certainly serve one’s purpose. However, there are many tasks in nonfiction that could be made much more quick and painless with the right software. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be in a long history to track all the footnotes and sources. It seems to me that this in and of itself is crying out for a software… IdeaMason is built to do this arduous work, but seems too unweildy. The question is, is it the developer’s lack of skill, the coding environment (I think IM uses .NET technology - notoriously clunky), or the complexity of the function that is to blame.

Perhaps, as is the case with Scrivener, Page Four and Liquid Story Binder, most of the people behind these projects are themselves aspiring novelists, and they are building the software they wish to use. (Oh, and I’ve thought of another application specifically for fiction writing: yWriter.)

I still find this an intriguing topic—and one that’s a little frustrating for those of us, like me, whose focus is on nonfiction writing.

Steve Z.


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